Reviewing Unsolved Homicides in the UK
: Exploring how detectives manage and prioritise the reviews of cases through a mixed methods study

  • Kirsty Bennett

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The severity of homicide necessitates the quick identification, charge, and prosecution of the person(s) responsible. When this is not possible, cases can traverse into unsolved homicides (UH). The minimal academic attention for UHs has left several gaps in knowledge for their management, prioritisation, and investigation. To address these gaps a mixed-methods study is used.

The quantitative data identified 2748 UHs with 1160 available for analysis. Males aged 25 to 35, with evidence of either blunt-force trauma, bullet wounds, or sharp-force trauma injuries motivated by a robbery represent the most common pattern within the UH population. A Two-Step Cluster Analysis was performed on 27 supplementary variables. This finding indicates that UHs within the sample could be primarily identified through their investigative outcome: pure UHs, charged but not prosecuted cases, no-body homicides, excessive deaths and body depositions, and shootings.

The qualitative strand involved a non-participatory, seven-month observation period and semi-structured interviews with 13 detectives. These findings demonstrate several internal and external factors impact how cases are prioritised and investigated, with these experienced differently across each participating force. UHs were primarily prioritised based on forensic evidence opportunities. When afforded sufficient resources, forces would utilise other investigative strategies (e.g., media, witnesses) to progress their cases, but the efficacy of these strategies need to be clarified.

The findings demonstrate that mandated explicit training schemes for UHs could reduce the ad-hoc approaches currently employed. This should incorporate the skills and knowledge of the review officers to incorporate their experiences and areas of best practice. This knowledge is at risk of being lost, which could hinder future reviews.

This study offers several advances in knowledge by identifying the prevalence and circumstances of UHs in Great Britain (GB). The response rate and sample size were acceptable, although the results may be different if more cases were analysed, or additional forces were to participate. Nevertheless, this study documents the first explanation of how UHs are managed, prioritised, and investigated when the media, witnesses, and forensic evidence advances are incorporated into the review strategy. This study has scope to be continued across all forces in GB.
Date of Award14 Apr 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJason Roach (Main Supervisor) & Michelle Rogerson (Co-Supervisor)

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